10 Jun 2020

Wakatū exploring Tasman reserve land in search of lost Nelson Tenths

From First Up, 5:08 am on 10 June 2020

Nelson-based Wakatū Incorporation is in talks with the Tasman District Council about parcels of reserve land in the Moutere-Waimea Ward, and their potential historic significance.

A view along the Boulder Bank from Glenduan towards Nelson.

Photo: Unsplash / Rich Hay

The land is possibly part of the land known as the Nelson Tenths, and among botched early land deals, which local iwi are on a path to reclaim.

Wakatū is owned by about 4000 shareholders descended from the original Māori land owners of the Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay Regions.

They operate businesses on land holdings only a fraction of the size they were 175 years ago.

In 2017 Wakatū Inc won a long legal battle when the Supreme Court ruled the government must honour a land deal struck in 1840s between the New Zealand Company and Māori in the Nelson region.

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Kerensa Johnston. Photo: Supplied / Kate MacPherson

Wakatū chief executive Kerensa Johnston said the Crown began disposing land after the ruling, forcing a further legal response.

"But what it is focused on now is trying to determine how the Crown's duty will be resolved - how it will deal with all the breaches that we've encountered with respect to its management of the land, and actually resolve this issue for our families."

Johnston said there were lingering aspects around the land known as the Nelson Tenths.

A key component of the New Zealand Company colonisation scheme was the agreement to reserve one-tenth of all land purchased for the on-going and future prosperity of its Māori vendors - Wakatū's ancestors.

The company also undertook to protect and reserve all Māori occupation lands, urupā (burial lands) and wāhi tapu (sites of cultural significance) from European settlement. 

Although some land was selected as 'Tenths' in Nelson and Motueka, this fell well short of the agreed area.

"The Crown issued a grant in 1845 which set conditions, and the 2017 court decision recognised that legal history," Johnston said.

She said the genesis of Wakatū was the Crown's adherence in 1845 to part of the deal.

"Some of that one-tenth and some of our occupation reserves were preserved - so part of the deal was done but the problem was the Crown didn't honour the entire deal.

"By 1847 the Crown was removing parcels of land from the Tenths in what is now the CBD of Nelson, and our families were watching that happening.

"So we began advocating since day one - since 1845, for the Crown to honour the arrangement and that's what the Supreme Court honoured in 2017."

Johnston said the Crown failed in its argument that the early arrangements had been political.

Wakatū is now in talks with the Tasman council about potentially significant aspects of the reserve land in Moutere/Waimea. 

Johnston said all Crown-owned land in Nelson and Tasman, including in Golden Bay, was potentially subject to the Supreme Court finding.

She said land held by other agencies that ought to have been in the Tenths Reserve Estate also required closer scrutiny.

"From a customary perspective, from the perspective of the manawhenua - of the whānau and hapu of this place - our argument now is that we're in a position where we're working through with the Crown just where the available land is in the region that will be returned to the families.

"That's the next phase of the work we're doing with the Crown."

Johnston said Wakatū had a good relationship with the Nelson and Tasman councils.

"We have a very strong and proactive relationship with both councils, and Tasman in particular - the officers were in contact with us almost immediately following the Supreme Court decision to say, 'what are the implications for us, what do we need to know - what are our potential responsibilities', which was really fantastic."

Johnston said with reference to the reserves land in Tasman, Wakatū wanted to know if any were former Nelson Tenths, or should have been included in the Trust Estate, or if they were papakāinga, or cultural lands that needed to be protected fro any reason.

"That's the main focus of the work we've been doing with the council."

She said Wakatū was now in the process of mapping all the land with cultural importance, to define as well as possible the areas it had papakāinga or cultivation lands.

"That area in Moutere/Waimea is potentially significant but it's a piece of research we're working on now in order to be certain, and we're working closely with the council on this."